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Are the 'Theocrats' Really All That Bad?
There are more important things than the strict Separation of Church and State.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 5, 2005

One characteristic of our age is that we often misidentify our enemies. When so many things are so far from the ideal, we get hysterical about the little things and ignore the big. We are bothered by some violation of principle, while we ignore other things far more dangerous and important.

For example, those who proclaim that they believe in limited government would say that providing for the common defense is one of its few proper functions. They would also say that the government has no business funding the arts. And it is easy to get very, very angry about some of the crap (and piss) that the taxpayer has been forced to pay for over the years. I know I have.

But what is the few hundred millions of dollars the federal government spends on the arts, compared to several hundred billions spent on "defense?" It is easy to say, if we grant that this is a governmental function, that it be adequately funded. But that doesn't mean we should turn an uncritical eye toward defense spending. It doesn't explain how stationing our troops in 120 countries around the world, or involving ourselves in the Korean Peninsula or Palestine or Iraq, contributes to our "defense." The amount of waste and counter-productivity in the Defense Department probably matches in two days the entire waste of the NEA. Which means that the actual harm done to the taxpayer by Defense is hundreds of times greater than the harm done by the NEA.

Conservatives in Washington no longer waste political capital trying to abolish the NEA. And if I were President, I probably wouldn't either. I'd be too busy fighting the military-industrial complex and other big-ticket thieves, even though, in principle, the NEA is a greater affront to my libertarianism. "Limited" government means limited not just in its functions, but in its size.

It's a question of trade-offs. Some battles over principle are trivial compared to real-word battles for our liberty and prosperity. One doctrine of the American civil religion, is the "separation of Church and State." Think of the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, sectarian civil wars, yada yada yada. Points well taken, although the death tolls hardly compare with the record of the irreligious Genghis Kahn, let alone of 20th century atheist tyrants. I do believe in the separation of Church and State. But if I were a libertarian in England or Sweden, would disestablishing the State Church be my biggest priority? Is that where the greatest waste, the greatest harm, the greatest violation of my rights, is going on? It is very possible to see a small portion of one's taxes go to support a State Church, and still, relative to the rest of the world, be quite free. And it is possible to live in a rigidly secular State and be unfree.

This issue is not trivial, considering the hysteria from leftist and some libertarian circles over the "theocrats." The purpose behind using this word is to equate to the views of the President's conservative Christian base with the social philosophy of the Taliban. Now, I loathe the Bush Administration and do not understand why anyone would support it. But let's not also forget that, on many of the social and moral issues that the Christian Right is concerned about, many are about federalism. Neither abortion nor prayer in schools would be an issue were it not for the unconstitutional intervention of the Supreme Court. Restoring federalism is a worthy libertarian goal, and there's no point in alienating potential allies in that goal. Seeing some violations of the "separation of Church and State," which isn't even what the First Amendment says, is a small price to pay to restore the Tenth Amendment.

Further, we should remember what the real enemy is. What is, truly, a bigger violation of the separation of Church and State: a page in a science textbook summarizing alternative theories to Darwinism, or the very institution of the public school itself? Education is ultimately about the dissemination of values, and the purpose of public education is to make it more costly for parents to give their children a religious education. Public education costs each of us many thousands of dollars per year, with ever-diminishing results. THAT is the real crime, the real danger.

Thus, it makes no sense to "dislike religion in politics even more than [to] dislike big government." I'd rather a tax be cut for religious reasons than a tax be raised for secular reasons. Bush's wars for "democracy" and "liberty" are wars for purely secular ideals. Is a war of aggression any less just because it is to spread an ideology instead of a religion? Is it wrong to ban pornography for religious reasons, but right to ban it for secular reasons? Does it matter why the Fat Nazis, Drug Warriors, and Tobacco Fascists believe in their nutty causes?

Tyranny is tyranny, and big government is big government. It is wrong for the devoutly religious to try to "help" God by launching religious crusades, invading our privacy, and redistributing our wealth. But it is no less wrong for secularists to try to replace God with the State by exacting greater tithes and imposing more rules than any religion's scriptures dared imagine.

What good is it to support the Separation of Church and State, but not also the Separations of School and State, Charity and State, and the Market and State? Christian conservatives deserve heaps of criticism and condemnation, particularly in their support for Bush's War. But the enemy of the "theocrat" is not necessarily the friend of reason and liberty.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country (

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